Volume 8 Number 4: John Bell part III

A few years ago my wife and I were invited to duntrune to give a Shakespeare recital for teh young officers of ADFA. before the recital I asked the commandant why he had invited us. he said 'tomorrow's soldiers are a new breed. they're going to be sent to all sorts of trouble spots. they can't just jump out of a plane and start shooting at people. they're going to have to learn immediately to assess the situation, empathise with the locals, and exercise diplomacy. they can learn a lot from actors. and especially from Shakespeare, noone has understood better what makes people tick."
- The artist's chief tool is imagination and as Einstein pointed out, imagination is the basis of all science. artists teach us to see life not just as it is, but as it could be. they teach us about innovation, creative speculation, selfknowledge and resiliance. the stifling of the imagination results in drudgery, dullness and the lack of inspiration, inertia. as individuals, art has to power to transform us, to expand our horizons, and give us deeper insights into the human condition. it can teach us to empathise, to put ourselve in other people's shoes, to see things from their point of view.
- I regard it as an enormous privilege that i've been able to spend the best part of the last 16 years working day by day in the company of William Shakespeare, to share something of his vision of the world, his joy, his despair, his indignation and healthy scepticism. i it weren't for him, I don't know if I wouldh ave devoted my life to the theatre. but through his work I have been able to conduct a fascinating and neverneding investigation of life, of peopel and of myself. his plkays empower actors and give them an unrivalled range of self-expression in tackling roles of such magnitude, such passion, such truthful insight. through Shakespeare's characters, actors can feel their innermost selves. Shakespeare challenges directors to bring his stories to life with clarity, with emotional prevcision and with simplicity.
- All of us within the theatre industry regard ourselves as fortunate that we're able to exercise wahtever talent we have in order to make a living in a profession that gives so much variety, excitement and satisfaction.

John Bell (Bell Shakespeare Theatre Company)
Radio National 'Summer Talks' from http://www.abc.net.au/rn/summer/2006/talk/lectures.htm accessed 28th Feb 2007

Volume 8 Number 3: John Bell part II

As well as an actor and adirector I am also the artistic director of the Bell Shapespeare Company. So what does that entail?
- All of the above, plus determining the policy and repetoire of the company. what plays to do and why, who should direct them and what's expected of them asethetically.
- I'm also expected to be the frontman or spokesman for the company on occasion. not so much in the business sense, I leave that to my excellent management team, my generla manager, my deputy, and other heads of department: finance, education, sponsorship, fundraising, marketing etc. but, in constantly defining the vision and mission statement and selling it to sponsors, owners and the media.
- I also see it as my duty to seek out and encourage new talent. actors, directors, designers, composers etc. i like working with young people. i hope that they keep me young and keep surprising me with their fresheness and their different outlook on life.
- It's part of my job as artistic director to keep an overview with all that's happening with our vast education program and to make sure all out touring shows are keepign up to scratch and to collaborate with all the various departments within the organisation to make sure we're all singing to the same tune.
- I have an number of associate artists both actors and directors of the company whose careers I wish to foster and whose input I welcome in the creative process.
- As an actor-director myself I belive that it's good for teh artistic director to maintain a public profile and to lead from the front occasionally as do Robert Nevan, Graham Murphy and Richard Tornetti in their various organisations. So how succesful is it, this juggling act, this wearing of two hats as artist and business person? Well for a start it's nothing new, in fact it's a time-honoured practice. William Shakespeare was an actor as well as a playwright. he acted in all his own plays as well as directing them. he also had shares in the theatre and proved to be a shrewd businessman and an aggressive litigant. he was highly succesful in attracting patronage, first from a series of wealthy noblemen, then the Lord Chamberlain and finally, the king himself - sponsorship doesn't get much better than that! His near contemporary, Moliere was another artist who had his own company and that tradition ahs continued to the present day, reaching its zenith in the 19th century... today many theatre companies, dance companies, orchestras and pop groups are headed, or at least fronted, by practising artists.
- Are there tensions? of course there are. the ideal businessperson is expected to be pragmatic, predictable, steady and strategic. Many artists on the other hand, thrive on chaos, risk, instability and emotional impulses. they can be at their most thrilling when they are erratic. but a lot of corporate people are a bit more open minded than they used to be in this area and they are looking at the values of flexibility, risk taking adn thinking outside the sqaure.

John Bell (Bell Shakespeare Theatre Company)
Radio National 'Summer Talks' from http://www.abc.net.au/rn/summer/2006/talk/lectures.htm accessed 28th Feb 2007

Volume 8 Number 2: John Bell part I

Artistic side of running theatre company. Many people are unsure of what a play director actually does, so let me tell you.
-Director is the person responsible for the overall production. He/she has to first of all come up with the concept: what does the play mean? why does it matter? how to communicate that to the audience? how should it look? who should play the various roles? what sort of music and lighting? what other areas of expertise? acrobatics, choreography, martial arts, etc.
In all of those areas she can play it safe or take risks. a radical design concept can stimulate an audience or send them away in droves. should she go for obvious casting or cast against type and surprise the audience with a brand new interpretation - an unlikely choice of actor? and what will the impact be on box office? how much should you strive for star names and how much should you honour your obligation to the next generation by giving newcomers a chance? (in this area I'm afraid I tend to be a bit of a softy and love pushing new talent to the fore)
- I try to give myself 12 months to prepare a production, to do the necessary research, to find my designer and conduct auditions. Once I've cast the roles I call the actors in to collaborate on the costumes. the actor has to feel that this entire costume is in harmony with his/her concept for the character. the only catch is the actor saying 'But I don't know who I am until I start rehearsing with the other actors". so one has to leave as much room as possible for late decision for peopel changing their minds, while keeping happy the costume makers who are working to tight deadlines.
- When the set, costumes, props, sound, lighting equipment and area is finalised, I submit the whole lot to eh production manager for costing. my most recent experience of this was with Romeo and Juliet. My production manager looked at the designs approvingly and said "they're lovely. now go away and cut $140000." so you spend the next few months scaling down, paring back to the bone. that's all pre-production,.
- And then comes the intense five-week rehearsal period, to get the whole lot together and put the show on. one of my priorities is to create a team spirit, to make everybody feel included, to make everybody feel that they own the show, to create an emotionally safe environment so that people can take risks and reveal their innermost, private selves without embarrassment. everybody should feel empowered, so that those actors playing the smallest roles I will say, 'show us some exercise or skill we can use in rehearsal, either as a warm up or as part of the show." and when debate gets heated I pass around the director's hat. everybody's entitled to wear it to express an opinion, every suggestion should be listened to, and nobody can be shouted down while wearing the director's hat.
- Say you have to devise a battle sequence, a frequent challenge in Shakespeare. I have two options, I can either call in a fight director to devise it, teach it to the cast, or I can approach it more organically. you can split the cast into groups of 3 or 4 and say "each show me six ways of falling off a horse, each show me six ways of killing someone with an axe." and when they;'ve all had time to work out their routines, we have a show and tell. everybody gets a go and we videotape the whole lot so that nothing gets forgotten. then the fight director and i will sit down and watch the videos, we choose the best dozen or so routines and work out a sequence, with the creators of each routine teaching it to the rest of the cast. What this achieves is a feeling of spoteneity, lots of different ideas and actors feeling empowered, even those whose routines aren't used are happy to have the opportunity to the whole cast and the cast are proud of the sequence that they had a hand in creating, rather than simply learning something by rote.
- The director has to play the benign autocrat, he can't appear indecisive, because that will make for insecurity in the cast. he mustn't appear flustered and impatient. and he mustn't, above all, play favourites.
- One of his hardest jobs is to pace the rehearsal process, with everybody working towards the same goal and being fully prepared by the opening night. he has to learn who to push, and when to just let things coast along. it's like baking bread. he mustn't overdirect, but leave the actors room for sponteneity and ownership of the role. and he must be both a diplomat and a psychologist, learning how to read the signs. at times aggression, defensiveness and even laziness are a cover for insecurity. what the actor needs is encouragement rather than reprimand. the director has to mindful of every individual actor, his needs and his private process, and yet maintain an overview of the whole show.
- Some directors get emotionally need or impatient and this makes the cast distrustful. some directors actually encoruage friction and disharmony in the rehearsing room because they feed off the tension, they feel that it creates drama. I find the reverse and regard all negativity energy as destructive. I feel that I'm not doing this for the money or the fame, so why be miserable as well? in my epxerience it's only a happy and supported team that makes the effort worthwhile. rehearsing room dramas may provide a quick fix, but the long term results of a six month tour can be poisonous.
- But a director can't be too soft either. for the sake of the play he has to keep raising the stakes, encouraging full emotional commitment, pushing the actors to taking greater risks, acting like a drill sergeant when necessary, to keep the show crisp and tight and having the courage to knock back inappropriate ideas.
- Once the show is opened, that's not the end of it. the director has to keep an eye on the play when it's on the road, dropping in once or twice a week to make sure it's still on track, themorale is high and not too many little 'improvements' have crept in.

John Bell (Bell Shakespeare Theatre Company)
Radio National 'Summer Talks' from http://www.abc.net.au/rn/summer/2006/talk/lectures.htm accessed 28th Feb 2007

Volume 8 Number 3

1. Why do overseas ministry with a mission organisation?
- some countries are more likely to recognise you and grant entry if you are with a track-record organisation
- local minsitry may be more open to you through missionary organisation networks
- pastoral care from within your culture and understanding your needs is made available to you
- you have help filtering good churches from bad... before you have the language skills to understand what a church teaches!

2. Who should do short-term mission before planning to be a career missionary?
- Definitely someone who is young, unqualified, never traveled out of their country, only lived at home and had no ministry experience
- Possibly, someone who finds doors opening for them to go - providential contacts, generous supports.

3. Advantages of short-term mission even if you are already experienced?
- builds concrete experiences to prepare for and pray about as you plan for long-term
- gives some concrete reality to your supporters... they know you have tried it out, you have photos of yourself in the region
- build some tentative relationships and networks for the future, and to keep you eyes on the goal as you prepare

4. Thomas Brooks, back by popular request:

"To repay good for evil is divine.
To repay good for good is human.
To repay evil for evil is bestial.
To repay evil for good is devilish."

Volume 8 Number 2

1. Thomas Brooks in 'Precious remedies against Satan's devices' says: 'The soul of man is a triangle that the circle of the world can't fill'

2. Meditating on 1Corinthians 12: When a part of the body says 'i'm not needed', is it possible that sometimes what we are saying is 'I'm not unique'? 'There are others who can do this, I'm not unqiuely needed, therefore I won't serve'.

The illustration of five fingers needed for a fully functional hand may be an encouragement to serve.

3. A nifty way to begin a testimony is with the present day, and then flashback into the past.

4. Stanley Grenz, quoting someone else I think, suggests that the four (Nicene) creedal marks of the church may be seen as adverbs: unifying (one), sanctifying (Holy), reconciling (Catholic) and proclaiming (apostolic).

This formulation presupposes that 'apostolic' should be taken as a dynamic thing 'a sent church' rather than a static thing 'built on the apostle's foundation'.

There are some nice ideas there, and a clever play on the Creed even if it is not an accurate expostition of the creed.

5. Thomas Brooks again: One sin is all sins because it spills out of the heart of sin, that is our disobedience to God.

6. Thomas Brooks yet again: Satan tells us that repentance will be easy as we consider sinning and then tells us it is impossible once we have fallen.

7. I attended a conference by a UK church planter named Martin Robinson. In it, two goals jumped out at me:
a) Aim to have 80% mobilisation in your church (80% of the church active in ministry)
b) Aim to have 120% of your church in small groups (ie always non-Chrsitians attending)

Volume 8 Number 1

Karl Barth on John Calvin:

Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this little stream. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.[1]

[1] Karl Barth, Letter to Eduard Thurneysen, 8 June 1922, in Karl Barth Gesamtausgabe V: Karl Barth - Eduard Thurneysen Briefwechsel II 1921-1930 (Zurich: Theologisches Verlag, 1974), p. 80.

Volume 7 Number 7

Sorry I haven't posted for so long. Been a busy few months sandwiching a relaxing month off. That is to say, I don't prioritise blogging, nor do I do it for fun :-)

1. The hardest passage to preach on for me is the big picture passage. Am about to preach on Luke 4:18-19 - Jesus' Nazareth Manifesto. Because it's so big... the point of it all... it's so hard to find an 'angle'.

I know all biblical teaching is inter-related. But these central passages, they can be applied to anything. Makes it all the harder to decide what to focus on.

2. I worry about Christians being intimidated to 'go soft' on Islam because of the prevailing postmodern culture.

But I am equally worried about evangelicals slipping into an equally horrible judgemental us-them mentality. When emotions run high and a preacher preaches against Islam, we must beware reinforcing the desires of the sinful nature to make all Muslims a big, indistinguishable unified Other.

3. I read 'Promoting the Gospel' by John Dickson and really liked it. Ever since reading it and raving about it, I have picked up awkward vibes from some people.

I understand that on face value 'not every Christian has to evangelise' is a controversial thing to say in some circles. But in the context of the book, why does it get such a lukewarm reception from some folk? Can any of my readers enlighten me? Point me to some critical reviews?

4. Romans 12:1-2, Colossians 3:16-17 calls on us to worship the Lord with all our being and doing. Surely this is a justification to pursue excellence amongst other things. But is there a better word than 'excellence'? It sounds a little high-brow/elitist. It also may bring echoes of a big emphasis on 'excellence' in Hillsong teaching during the 1990s, which some hcurhc members may find distracting.

I was playing with the idea of 'wholhearted simplicity'. It just sounds kinda nice.